West powers way to PGAAC win

Photo: Perfect Game

Steven Walters Jeff Dahn
Published: Sunday, August 13, 2017

Box Score | Event Blog

SAN DIEGO – The West squad came out swinging in the 15th annual Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park, defeating the East team 6-1 to win for a second straight year.

“That was amazing fun; it was a lot of fun here,” West head coach Dave Gallegos said. “These are just great kids, they like to have fun, and they’re very competitive; it was exciting for us today.”

Power was a theme coming into the game, with both teams featuring power bats and power arms, and they were certainly on display in San Diego.

Ranked as the No. 1 player in the class of 2018, Kumar Rocker was given the start for the East team and came out firing, reaching 98 mph with his fastball. The righty needed 10 pitches to retire West leadoff hitter Brice Turang, and although Jarred Kelenic and Jordan Groshans both reached with two outs, Rocker was able to punch out Bryce Bush with a slider to end the threat.

Matthew Liberatore was given the ball for the West Squad and needed only 10 pitches to set down the East 1-2-3. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound lefty ran his fastball up to 95 mph, while showing his breaking ball and curveball to notch two strikeouts.

Baseball America Pitcher of the Year Ethan Hankins followed up Rocker for the East Squad and struck out the first two hitters he saw in the top of the second, the first on a mid-90s fastball and the second on a mid-70s breaking ball. The Vanderbilt commit showcased his savviness on the mound, varying his delivery and throwing hitters off-balance with his off-speed pitches.

Kendall Logan Simmons collected the first hit of the game in the bottom of the second inning, driving a 96-mph offering from J.T. Ginn deep down the left field line for a double. With runners on first and second with two outs, West catcher Noah Naylor made a great recovery on a ball in the dirt to throw out Simmons to end the threat in the second.

An error in left field started things for the West in the top of the third, as Alek Thomas hustled right out of the box to reach second base safely. A flyball to right field by Osiris Johnson moved Thomas to third, but East pitcher Mason Denaburg induced a ground ball to the drawn in defense to keep Thomas from scoring. With two outs in the inning, Nolan Gorman crushed a long home run to right-center field that put the West team on the board with their first two runs of the night.

Gorman was named the GAME'S Most Valuable Player after going 2-for-3 with a two-run home run, a two-run single, a walk and four total RBI. The West now holds an all-time 9-5-1 advantage over the East in the 15 years the Classic has been played.

Austin Becker needed only 12 pitches to shut down the East in the bottom of the third. The Vanderbilt commit featured a mid-90s fastball to go along with a fading changeup that he used to strikeout Nicholas Schnell.

A 1-2-3 inning by Georgia Tech commit Luke Bartnicki began the fourth inning, as he fanned Bush and Naylor using a variety of pitches. The big lefthander showcased his fastball and slider, two pitches he has succeeded with in prior Perfect Game events.

The power pitching continued, as Jack Perkins struck out two hitters in the bottom of the fourth and was aided by a strong throw by Naylor to catch Jeremiah Jackson stealing. It would be the second time in the game that Naylor caught a runner trying to swipe a base, and the younger brother of 2014 PG A-A Josh Naylor showed good presence behind the plate all night.

Carter Stewart sat down the West team in order in the top of the fifth, keeping the score at 2-0. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound righty features one of the highest spin rates on a breaking ball ever recorded by Perfect Game, and used it to his advantage, striking out Preston Hartsell on a wicked breaking ball that started at Hartsell’s eyes and finished at his knees.

Triston Casas notched just the second hit for the East in the bottom of the fifth, shooting a groundball up the middle to begin the inning. Jonathan Childress would set down the next three hitters though, keeping the East squad scoreless through five innings.

In the top of the sixth, TCU commit Alek Thomas led off with a walk and was promptly caught leaning by lefty Brandon Neeck, but an errant throw from first to second allowed the Thomas to showcase his speed and advance to third. Even with the threat of Thomas at third, Neeck punch out Seth Halvorsen, keeping Thomas at third. The 6-foot, 180-pound Virginia commit would get Kelenic swinging on a breaking ball to strand runners at first and third.

Kelenic would make up for the strikeout in the bottom half of the inning made a fantastic diving catch to rob Nick Decker of extra bases. Although an excellent hitter, the defense is just another tool that the No. 5 ranked Kelenic brings to the table.

In the top of the seventh, Groshans launched a solo home run to left field, turning on a 96 mph delivery by Lineras Torres Jr., to push the West lead to 3-0. Torres would bounce back though, striking out two of the next four hitters to escape the inning limiting the damage to one run.

Denaburg singled with one out in the bottom of the seventh to start a rally for the East Squad and advanced to second on a walk by Xavier Edwards. Nander De Sedas also walked, loading the bases for Banfield. A wild pitch scored Denaburg, putting the East on the board, but they were unable to add on as Blake Burzell struck out Banfield before getting John Malcolm to ground to third.

Back-to-back walks against lefty Jonathan Gates was the story in the top of the eighth for the West team, who was looking to add on and respond to the East’s run. After a strikeout and another walk, Gorman singled home two runs to push the lead to 5-1. The West would tack on one more on an infield single by Kelenic to take a commanding 6-1 lead. Gorman would finish the game 2-for-3 with a home run, a walk and four RBIs and would be awarded the game’s MVP award.

“In a way it’s just another game, I guess, but this one is a little bit more special,” Gorman said.

Davenport, Iowa native Ian Bedell showcased his 94-mph fastball en route to retiring three of the four hitters he faced in the bottom of the eighth, continuing the theme of power pitching for the West team.

“Both teams had good squads and good pitching, but I think our squad dominated pitching-wise,” Gallegos said. “Our pitching staff dominated and we got some big hits.”

The East team finished with power of their own in the top of the ninth, sending University of Georgia commit Cole Wilcox to the mound. The No. 16 ranked player in the class of 2018 fanned two batters while reaching 96 mph with his fastball.

Seth Halvorsen was given the ball in the bottom of the ninth and finished with a flourish, needing only 14 pitches to strike out the side and secure the second straight win for the West squad.

“We’re the best of the best in the whole country, the 53 best in high school, so if you don’t have confidence it’s going to be hard to have success,” Gorman said after helping the West win for the second straight year and the fifth time in the last six meetings. “Everyone has confidence out here and everyone showed it tonight. After we lost at the scrimmage we knew we had to kick it into gear, and we obviously did that today.”

Capping off a weekend of activities and service was something special for the West squad, and Gorman pointed towards the opportunities that this experience provided him.

“This is a super special event, especially going to Rady Children’s Hospital with all those kids,” Gorman said. “There’s nothing else like it, seeing all those kids and what they have to go through. For them to go through that, they’re super-heroes like everyone says, and that’s amazing.”

One of the other events that took place on Sunday was the semifinals and finals of the PGAAC Home Run Challenge, that were staged about an hour before the Classic’s first pitch; crowd favorite Preston Hartzell from nearby Newport Coast, Calif., hammered his way to the title.

The powerfully built, 6-foot, 195-pound, left-handed swinging Hartsell drove the ball into Petco Park’s right field stands on the first pitch he saw during his 30-second bonus round to power past runner-up Nick Northcut out of Mason, Ohio, 9-8, in the finals. Hartsell had hit seven home runs in the semifinal round to reach finals while the 6-foot-1, 200-pound right-handed swinging Northcut had hit five.

“I only live about an hour away and all my friends and my family were great; it means the world to me for them coming down” said Hartsell, who played in the Classic as a member of the West team. “I’ve done these (home run derbies) before so I know I have the strength to hit them out, but I did bring my leg-kick up a little just to get some more momentum going out towards right field.”

Six of his nine home runs – all of which were hit out of the park in right field – were slugged with a wood bat; he used a Rawlings VELO BBCOR bat to hit the other three. Northcut used wood to deliver four of his eight bombs in the finals with the other four coming off the barrel of a VELO.

Hartsell and Northcut – also a West team member – were joined in the semifinals by the West’s left-handed hitting Gorman (Glendale, Ariz.) and the East’s left-hander Nander De Sedas (Montverde, Fla.). Gorman hit four home runs in the semis while De Sedas hit two.

The four reached the semis after turning in power performances during preliminary round action Saturday at the University of San Diego’s Fowler Park, a much more hitter-friendly venue than Petco Park. Gorman and De Sedas each dropped 10 bombs at Fowler while Hartsell and Northcut delivered nine apiece.

“I knew this place was a little bit bigger so I tried to really hug the right field line, the short part of the ballpark,” Hartsell said. “But I really feel like I can get hit it out anywhere, so this was a lot of fun.”

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